Life is like many, many boxes of chocolate
Way back when you were in school, you probably learned that there are four basic food groups: meats, vegetables, fruits and grains. That’s what the ladies who served your school lunch would probably have told you, anyhow. Savvy people know that there are other, more important, basic food groups: chocolate cake, chocolate candy, chocolate-chip cookies, and chocolate frosting. If you agree, you’re a person after my own heart and someone Steve Almond, author of “Candy Freak” (c.2004, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) would also like to meet.Growing up, Almond (yep, that’s his real name) says he was a lonely, geeky boy with an almost obsessive love for sweets. His infatuation with candy was cultivated by his father, a man who also had a huge fondness for confections, who loved to mix up a batch of homemade fudge or marzipan, and for whom candy was a way to keep the peace in the family.Almond spent much of his childhood looking for ways to get more candy, and as he grew up, he never outgrew his attachment to sweets. As an adult, he drove his friends crazy, talking about candy. He asked strangers about their favorites. He began to hoard certain kinds of chocolates. When Caravelle bars were discontinued, Almond began a quest to find out if anyone else was anguished by this grave mistake.While searching for the reason behind the discontinuation of Caravelle bars, Almond learns that other really popular, fantastic candy bars are also disappearing at an alarming rate. He also finds that he can actually tour candy factories, see how candy is made, and even oh yes even get free samples. From Idaho (Spud Bar) to Sioux City, Iowa (Twin Bing), Nashville (Goo Goo Bar) to Kansas (Valomilk) to California (Big Hunk and Abba-Zaba), Almond takes you on a pilgrimage to find the small candy makers who are still hanging on, still making the candy you remember from your childhood. And did you ever wonder why you can’t find your old favorites anymore, even if you know they’re still made? The truly sad and outrageous part of this book is the little-known explanation for that. Hint: it’s all about money.Aside from the biography / travelogue aspect of “Candy Freak”, there are familiar names in this book that will make your taste buds dance. Necco Wafers. Sixlets. My personal long-gone favorite, the Milk Shake Bar, is mentioned and mourned. Lik-M-Aid, Pop Rocks, Jujubes, Dream Bars, Boston Baked Beans, Mike & Ikes, even a 1930’s candy bar called Chicken Dinner are all in this book.Author Steve Almond knows his candy, and one could certainly call him a connoisseur. His loving descriptions of chocolate sounded like a fancy wine aficionado’s ravings. Undoubtedly, you will remember many of your favorite childhood candies while reading this book. Undoubtedly, you will crave something sweet while learning about how chocolates are made. And undoubtedly, you will laugh, because “Candy Freak” is a slightly nutty, tasty little book. By Terri Schlichenmeyer
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